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Archive for April, 2010

Lutherans and Evangelism: Have We Lost our Voice?

April 19th, 2010 13 comments

A thought-provoking article by Pastor Peters, for your consideration and reflection.

On another on-line forum is the question “Why Lutherans Can’t Evangelize.” It is a striking question born of a time when Lutherans have borrowed the evangelism methods of others and found themselves without a voice of their own to speak the Gospel to their neighbor. I cannot always have been true because there was a point in the 1950s when Lutherans were growing at astounding rates. TIME magazine noted this in April of 1958 with the prediction that if things continue everyone in America will be Lutheran by 2000. We know how that turned out. Perhaps TIME jinxed our forward momentum since the last year we saw substantial growth in the LCMS was 1963.

I think we lost our voice. The boats stopped coming from Europe, America changed and suburbia brought with it additional cultural changes, our own shift from a largely rural to mostly urban and suburban church body made us turn inward to figure out what this meant for us, and we found ourselves without a voice to speak to those around us.

So we did what Lutherans are wont to do. We went shopping in the religious marketplace. We looked at the denominations that were growing (Southern Baptist) and began shaping our approach in their terminology and from their perspective. But it was a little like those who speak another language from a phrase book. It was not our native tongue.

Then came Evangelism Explosion and D. James Kennedy. We Lutheranized it into Dialog Evangelism (ala BZ) and suddenly there were people showing up on the front porches of America asking “What would happen to you if you died tonight?” Again, with all our tweaking, it was a foreign language to us and the decision theology part of it all left a taste in our mouth that diluted our enthusiasm.

In the end what this did is transfer the responsibility to an Evangelism Committee. Remember that before this Luthern congregational structures did not even have an evangelism group or committee or deacon. Don Abdon came along to help us with this restructuring need and with a list of those who were “evangelists” and we decided that evangelism was best done by those with its gift. All of this distanced the average Lutheran Christian from the task and purpose of sharing the faith.

Advance a few years and we were shopping at Willow Creek or Saddle Creek or CCM radio stations in the hopes that if we looked different and sounded different people would be attracted to us. Never mind the fact that our sanctuaries were architecturally unsuited for this style and our heart was not fully convinced (hence the traditional services that kept us Lutheran in identity at least at 7 am on Sunday morning).

Our mission execs began shopping for those churches that were growing and they shifted our paradigms and made us more missional and insisted that everything we were or did had to be negotiable if we were really to grow. Their hearts were in the right place — they daily faced statistics that most people in the pew choose to ignore… but the result has been a great division between those congregations that are LINO (Lutheran in name only), those who have abandoned even the name but exist within the denomination, AND those who turn to page 151 on LSB on Sunday morning and the worship wars past and pressent.

Now our Lutheran evangelistic zeal is part of the angst of who we are and what we are. If we did bring people to worship, would they feel at home? Would they like it? Would they find us friendly? Would they come back? Can we do this? Will it (giving up who we are) be worth it all in the end? Instead we should have been thinking Isaiah 55 — My Word will not return to me empty handed… Instead we should have been confident that where the Word and Sacraments are and the baptized people gathered around them and their Pastor, there is the Church with the fullness of the Spirit who IS the one who grows the Church.

Our parish grows because the people invite people to come with them. Our outreach is through the people in the pew who daily witness and share their faith and not through an evangelism committee. People hear about our work in the community or find out about us through our highly regarded preschool or come to one of our Music at Grace concerts or are brought by those who have confidence in the Word and Sacraments, the means of grace. We do try to be deliberately welcoming, we have a welcome desk at the door and people stationed to identify and welcome visitors. We have signs and lots of parking. We have a well maintained building. But we sing the liturgy on Sunday morning and use the full resources of the hymnal for the Divine Service. We have good teaching for all ages and good Biblical preaching that keeps the Law and Gospel distinct but together. We do everything wrong in this regard and next week we will receive nearly 40 new members (through baptism, instruction, adult confirmation, affirmation of faith, and transfer). What happens on Sunday morning and who we are during the week is the same. The result is that people know who they are in the pews and feel confident about bringing people with them, sharing the faith with their neighbors and co-workers, and they know what people will experience on Sunday morning. Even kids do this.

We must know who we are before we know our voice in evangelism and outreach. It must be authentic and real, positive and genuine… Identity is what helps us welcome… confidence in that identity gives us confidence to invite and welcome… it really does work.

The New Pietism Will Lead to The Same Old Results

April 18th, 2010 17 comments

“We do not have to look very far to see that today there is a new spirit of pietism abroad, a pietism that sees the essence of Christianity in the small, informal group, rather than in the total community of faith at worship within a recognized and formal liturgical order. It is a pietism that measures its success by the number of people it touches, rather than by the truth of the message it proclaims. It is a pietism that is preoccupied with “simple hymns” and informal structures of worship. It is a pietism that is impatient with the German Reformation of the sixteenth century, a pietism that asserts that we need new forms and less of the old. It is a new spirit of pietism that looks in many respects like the old pietism, the Pietism in the technical sense which we have considered here.

“The leading question, of course, is this: Where did the old Pietism lead? By the end of the eighteenth century German Lutheranism had almost disappeared.

“Liturgical forms had been eliminated, the highly developed church music of Bach and his contemporaries was no longer heard in the churches, and the content of the Christian faith had been watered down to little more than Unitarianism, with an invertebrate spirituality lacking the backbone of confessional theology. Instead of leading to a period of growth of the church, Pietism precipitated an era of decline of the church, a situation which was not reversed until, around the middle of the nineteenth century, there was a recovery of Lutheran confessional theology, Lutheran liturgical practice, and Lutheran church music, that is, a recovery of those things with which Bach was so intimately concerned.”

Bach and Pietism: Similarities Today, by Robin A. Leaver, Concordia
Theological Quarterly, 55:1 (Jan. 1991), pp. 5-22.

Affirmation for Concordia Publishing House

April 17th, 2010 5 comments

Wow, Pastor Weedon had some great things to say about Concordia Publishing House recently. Here it is:

I’ve blogged on this before…but the realization hits me anew: how unbelievably blest we’ve been with the recent publications from CPH. I compare to when I started in the ministry. We had a Synod quite divided over the hymnal (which, to be fair, had some very good points; and some very bad ones). We had an essentially Reformed Study Bible that we tried to “tweak” with a few “Lutheran” notes. We had a “daily prayer” office that relied on the NIV, featured no writings from the Fathers or the Confessions, used generally but two psalms A WEEK and was completely geared toward pastors only. There was no lectionary option for those who wanted the historic lectionary in the hymnal; the published lectionary was only three year, and was – pardon my crassness – as ugly as the hymnals themselves. Blue and spotted.

Look at what we have now, all of which is beautifully bound and presented:

A hymnal that is (for all its weaknesses) the best hymnal Lutherans in America have ever produced.
A complete and wonderful Altar Book.
A complete Agenda that makes the previous Agendas look sparse.
A Reader’s Edition of Concordia: the Lutheran Confessions
Treasury of Daily Prayer – designed for ALL the baptized and replete with the daily Scripture readings AND writings from the history of the Church
A Pastoral Care Companion that is so rich a pastor in his ministry will never wear out its resources
A Study Bible that is one of the best available for its rich blending of Patristic, Confessional and modern scholarly insight into the Word of God.
And last but not least: Lutheran Service Builder that is top notch software for utilizing the full resources of hymnal AND Altar Book/Agenda with unprecedented ease and speed!

I can’t imagine it has ever been a more joyous time to be a Lutheran pastor. In liturgy, Bible study, prayer, and pastoral care we have been resourced in a way that our spiritual forebears would be astonished at. And just today I read that CPH is coming out with an updated reader’s edition of Dr. Walther’s classic *The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel* that takes the “King Jamesy” language out of Dau’s rendition of Walther and gives us the real and rugged Saxon at his best. Looking forward to it.

Oh, and did I mention the Gerhard volumes available now in his classic Loci Theologici? And Starck’s Prayer Book? And Walther’s *God Grant It!*? It goes on and on. And still the goodies are rolling out.

Thank you, heavenly Father, for these resources and for the opportunity to serve Your people in these days!

Categories: CPH Resources

The Future of Digital Books

April 16th, 2010 2 comments

Here’s a peek at what the future holds for digital books and the reading experience that will be typical for coming generations, just a hint of the possibilities.

Categories: Publishing

A Prayer to Be Rid of Some Current and Popular Illusions

April 16th, 2010 Comments off

I’m working through some older books that we are bringing back into print via our “Concordia On Demand” program, and came across a beautiful gem of a book by Dr. Martin Franzmann titled, Pray for Joy, a collection of meditative prayers on various themes. This one particularly caught my eye today:

To Be Rid of Some Current and Popular Illusions

Rid us, O Lord, of the arrogant delusion that our age is harder to live in, harder to live through and be decent in than any age that ever was, that we are being tried as our fathers never were, that we have more excuse for our neurotic screaming, our pitiful muddling, our erorded standards, our sentimental slobbering, our pinching terror at the shadows of the future cast upon our way than any men who ever walked beneath your heaven and on Your earth.

Teach us, O Lord, by your sane and steadying Word that we stand before You as we always stood, living of Your grace and moving toward Your judgment, that the Bomb adn the terrible technological trifles of our time have not altered the great, plain, steady fact that You are Lord and have not changed the blessed time ofYour coming as a thief in the night.

The Digital Revolution is Not About to Close the Book on Print

April 15th, 2010 2 comments

With the advent of the iPad, we have yet taken another significant step forward in the world of digital publishing, media, reading, interaction with content, etc. Some are, as usual, hailing this as yet a closer move toward the day when print is dead. No more paper. No more books. No more teacher’s dirty looks. Oh, wait, I’m getting sidetracked….

The point is that at each step of the way along the path of the new emerging technologies in publishing, we are told that print will soon be dead, but it isn’t. We have more printed materials being pumped out than ever before. Here’s an interesting article that gives some perspective, and here’s a snippet:

The iPad will not destroy print. But it will create innovative models like, for example, works that mix text and audio-visual content, creating a different and exciting product. Revolutions are full of contradictions. It took printed books in the Gutenberg revolution many years to replace handwritten ones. If history is any guide, print media and books are likely to coexist with digital newspapers, magazines and books for some time. New models will emerge with the experimentation. Publishers and advertisers are entering uncharted waters.

Categories: Publishing

Cling Only To Christ, Not Your Speculations

April 14th, 2010 1 comment

On Him [Christ] fix your eyes. For you cannot grasp God in Himself, unless perchance you want a consuming fire. But in Christ you see nothing but all sweetness, humanity, gentleness, clemency—in short, the forgiveness of sins and every mercy, etc. When you have Him, then good for you; you are a tower of defense with God the Father. Cling to Christ, otherwise you will hear the Father Himself speaking against you when He says (Matt. 17:5): “Listen to Him.” The Jews could not listen to Him, etc. And Paul says that the deity dwells bodily in Christ (Col. 2:9). The incarnation of Christ powerfully calls us away from speculating about the divinity. I learned from Staupitz that I had been carried away to the devil by my speculations, for human weakness could not bear these if it did not gain access to God somewhere. This they know by the mercy of God, etc.: The flesh of Christ, like ours, does not strike him down who beholds it. And the man in temptation either will not know God, who created heaven and earth and did other wonderful works, or his knowledge will not give him hope and deliverance from temptation. But Christ (as this text shows in a marvelous way) is useful to us for all things and in all things, and through this very Man we are to come to God. To Him Paul and other disciples of Christ come down; they do not climb up to an observation of the majesty, or Paul was not learned because he was not a sophist. When man looks at Christ, Satan is put to flight, and the conscience of a man in temptation is made happy and free from care. God clearly demands honest and pure righteousness of us, and since no one produces it, He permits no one to approach Him by his own strength. Christ has fulfilled this for us, therefore through Christ alone we have access to the Father. To be sure, it is true that one who has never felt his sin can contemplate God, or better, weave his phantasies about God; he can for a while reach out for the godhead he has invented for himself. But one who feels his sin and becomes fainthearted from fear of God will soon withdraw his foot from his speculations and turn to Christ, and he will be better off. He will have coolness in the shade, protection in the pavilion, banishment of Satan and of evil thoughts, also strength against all the gates of hell (Matt. 16:18), etc. The names applied to Christ in this text should, however, be carefully studied, so that we may know what has been given to us in Christ and that in Him there is victory and light, etc.

Martin Luther
LW 16:55

The Lutheran Study Bible in LOGOS Format is Now Available!

April 13th, 2010 10 comments

This is a great week for digital editions of The Lutheran Study Bible. First, on Sunday the Kindle edition of TLSB went live, and now, today, as promised, we now have ready for purchase, The Lutheran Study Bible: LOGOS Edition on CD ROM.

LOGOS software users already know how great this software is for study purposes. First time LOGOS users will discover how LOGOS gives you great access to reading around, and in, and carefully studying on your computer or iPhone The Lutheran Study Bible. Let me describe what The LOGOS edition of The Lutheran Study Bible offers you. The price is $34.99 and it is available directly from CPH.

You receive all the study notes of The Lutheran Study Bible and a complete copy of the ESV Bible, in LOGOS format, quite a value when you consider how much the ESV Bible alone costs in LOGOS format, $40 bucks. With these two resources installed on your computer, you can open up two windows and have the Bible text in one window, TLSB study notes in another window, and the windows “track” together as you move around in either the Bible text, or the study notes. Plus, if you have additional collections and volumes from CPH in Logos format, such as Luther’s Works, the Book of Concord, the Concordia Commentary series, the massive collection of resources in the Concordia Electronic Theological Library, you can use the TLSB notes and search around in all these other resources, and any other LOGOS edition books you have installed on your computer! It’s really cool stuff. I had a great time exploring and browsing.

The Lutheran Study Bible on CD-ROM includes:

A powerful search engine
Lighting fast search results
Note taking capabilities
Custom toolbars and menus
Navigation aids
Context-sensitive menus
and also includes the ESV Bible text, a $39.99 value

Whether you are an experienced LOGOS user, or new to LOGOS,I encourage you to consider this for use on your computer.

Any current PC platform can use TLSB: Logos Edition, out of the box. Mac users need to have purchased, and installed, the Mac version of the LOGOS engine, or they can use the PC native version under emulation on their Macs. [I still prefer using LOGOS in its PC native format. It works like a charm on my older Intel based iMac under Parallels].

After getting literally countless individual e-mail queries, and countless blog, Facebook and Twitter questions on this, I’m probably more happy than anyone that this now out and you can finally get it. Enjoy, and God bless!

How to Get Rid of the Unholy Trinity in Your Prayer Life

April 13th, 2010 Comments off

Pastor William Weedon has some good advice for young people, but really, it’s for everyone. The question is how to avoid a narcissistic prayer life, which is to say, destroying the idol that dominates many people’s prayer lives: the unholy Trinity of me, myself and I. Here are Pastor Weedon’s remarks:

“I have frequently commented that Luther really didn’t get rid of monasteries; his idea was to move the monastery into the home! I mean, he PREACHED at home, for heaven’s sake. Not to mention hymns and prayers and Bible reading and such.

“But it is true that most people are not called the monastic life and cannot actually pray the daily office, even in the sense of three offices of Matins, Vespers and Compline that comprise the heart of the office for Lutherans.

“So what can a young person do who laments that they just don’t know how to pray? I had this conversation last night. “But I always only think about myself. My prayers are so narcissistic.”

“My answer is: “take up the Treasury of Daily Prayer.” A very simple discipline can be made of praying each day the Psalm (printed out for the day) and one of the Bible readings and the prayer for the day and then the prayer for the day of the week (pages 1306ff.) and wrap up with the Lord’s Prayer. Simple, really. It does NOT need to be elaborate. It does need to be consistent, but even with when you fail to pray on a certain day, remember – as Pr. Kinnaman wrote so beautifully in the intro – that others of the Body of Christ are praying that day and you are not alone; you are joining a vast company who bear your weaknesses. Doing this much will keep you praying for all sorts and conditions of people, will draw you out of yourself into the Word and into the world as you bear the burdens of others. Yesterday was Wednesday, and I pointed out that by praying the week day prayers we remembered all those whose pilgrimages are coming to an end, and asked God’s grace and mercy on them.

“Making disciplined, daily prayer a part of one’s life is a battle – and Satan wants nothing more than to see you go for days without being fortified by the Word or calling on God. Remember above all: the discipline of prayer is FOR YOUR BENEFIT. It doesn’t make God love you any more than He already does (His fullness of love for you can never be diminished). He doesn’t NEED your prayer; YOU need Him, and that’s why you pray. He comes to you in His Word (and that’s why praying the Psalm and the Bible reading are vital to the discipline). Treasury simply makes these much easier.

“Too many start out trying to do too much in prayer. It’s a formula for failure. Start out small, do so consistently, and it will grow. It can’t not.

“My two cents on the topic.”

Can you help this little girl and her family?

April 12th, 2010 1 comment

I do not do this very often, for obviously, my blog could become a never ending litany of requests like this, but I do hope you take a moment to read and consider this one.

Jen and Jason Balaska’s little girl, Natalie, five years old, is in pediatric intensive care being treated for a very serious medical condition. The family could really use some financial support due to expenses that are being incurred as a result of this situation.

Jen has been extremely helpful to me and many other Lutheran bloggers, carefully designing graphics for our web sites and offering all kinds of assistance. I have had the privilege of meeting Jen, Jason and little Natalie about a year ago when they visited St. Louis.

Here is how you can help.

Go to PayPal (create an account if you need to), click the “send money” tab, enter the Balaskas’ email address (jenb73@wowway.com) and the amount, click the “personal” tab next and specify “gift.” It is secure and a very effective way to offer tangible support.

Please then pray for Natalie’s healing and for the family’s strength and courage to face this situation.

Thank you!

Categories: Uncategorized

The Press has Been the Roman Catholic Church’s Best Friend in the Abuse Scandal

April 12th, 2010 3 comments

What to make of the horrible mess that continues to play out across the mass media? As I listen to reactions and read responses there is one response that I find particular and deeply troubling: attacking the liberal media, secularists, modernists, rationalists and any and all who are expressing outrage at the growing reports of the abuse of children across Roman Catholic institutions. I have read posts that are damning all such reactions as no more than an ongoing plot by anti-Christian forces to tear down the Church by going after the largest visible target available: the Pope in Rome and the Church He leads.

Now, is this happening? Of course it is! Are those opposed to Christianity using this as an occasion to attack the Christian Faith itself? Of course they are. Are they being unfair? Yes, of course. All the more reason not to give these people the very ammunition they are using to shoot the Church with!

The leadership of the Roman Catholic Church bears a large part of the blame for the media attacks. Through their systematic failure to deal adequately with the abuse of children and others in Roman Catholic institutions and parishes, and by offering “golden parachutes” to those who most directly covered up and denied justice for criminal activities, (I’m talking here about Bernard Law, for example), the Roman Catholic Church made itself a very easy target and is now paying the price for the mishandling of these cases. And let me be very quick to say that The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod has learned through hard and bitter experiences of our own not to pass men along who engage in these kinds of behavior.

Here’s the point: It is precisely the wrong response to go on the attack against the media. The only response that should be made is to express total and complete outrage and complete and very public remorse for the sexual abuse of children at the hands of priests. Period. And keep saying it. Over and over, ad naseum. Back the words up with actions and provide the proof of action. An absolute zero tolerance policy on these behaviors must be adopted everywhere and applied every time. The leadership of the Roman Catholic Church does not “get it” and continues to shoot itself in the foot with its reactions. For example, I’ve read Roman bishops comparing Benedict to Christ, unjustly being tormented, sharing in the sufferings of Christ, etc. The only message everyone, from the Pope on down to every parish priest should be sending is this: There has been across the Roman Catholic Church a widespread failure to deal with these situations, quickly and justly. The Church has preferred to harbor and protect child abusers rather than throw them out of office and turn them over to the local police for their crimes. Behind this is a good deal of false doctrine concerning the office of the priest, including the supposed “indelible mark” of ordination, and imposed celibacy on the clergy.

Here are some perceptive remarks I read elsewhere expressing concern about an impassioned Lutheran coming to Pope Benedict’s defense. These remarks were, and are, spot-on.

Who would have possibly imagined that the current crisis of systemic child rape and the responsive horror expressed by so many could be spun into yet another victim-status tome regarding the insular, malevolent and hyperbolic Modernist and Liberal forces. Meanwhile for 50 yrs we had the systemic rape of children in our hallowed institutions, a crime against humanity that should never been allowed to be perpetrated to even a fraction of the extent that it did. Does the NYT’s have anti-religion flavor? Sure. Is it hyperbolic? Yes, sometimes. But is also true that this insidious modernist religion-hating main-stream press (as well as plaintiff’s lawyers), led to less children being raped. Meanwhile the Church was dragged along and is still being dragged along. I hear the author’s frustration. But maybe it’s time to put down the sword, and take a step back for some serious self-reflection that just maybe this time there is more going on here. Or would such an honest accounting be considered too weak and too relativist……?

And, please take special note of this excellent summary of Peggy Noonan’s comments on this incident. Here’s a portion of Get Religion‘s coverage of Noonan’s remarks:

Noonan is the author of “John Paul the Great: Remembering a Spiritual Father,” a tribute to the late pope that was as much a journal of her emotional responses to his papacy as a volume about his remarkable life. At one point, Noonan states simply, “”John Paul walked into my life and served, unknowingly, as my spiritual father. He had led me like a light in the dark. …”

With that in mind, it is best to look at the end of her column first — before we get to the material that I think is so relevant to journalists and other GetReligion readers who are trying to figure out a way to aim criticisms (positive and negative) at the Vatican and the New York Times at the same time. What are we to make of the papacy during these decades — repeat decades — of scandal in which so many bishops actively hid priests who abused young children and many, many teen-agers (the vast majority of the latter males)?

Some blame the scandals on Pope Benedict XVI. But Joseph Ratzinger is the man who, weeks before his accession to the papacy five years ago, spoke blisteringly on Good Friday of the “filth” in the church. … The most reliable commentary on Pope Benedict’s role in the scandals came from John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter, who argues that once Benedict came to fully understand the scope of the crisis, in 2003, he made the church’s first real progress toward coming to grips with it.

As for his predecessor, John Paul the Great, about whom I wrote an admiring book which recounts some of the scandals — I spent a grim 2003 going through the depositions of Massachusetts clergy — one fact seems to me pre-eminent. For Pope John Paul II, the scandals would have been unimaginable — literally not imaginable. He had come of age in an era and place (Poland in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s) of heroic priests. They were great men; they suffered. He had seen how the Nazis and later the communists had attempted to undermine the church and tear people away from it, sometimes through slander. They did this because the great force arrayed against them was the Catholic Church. John Paul, his mind, psyche and soul having been forged in that world, might well have seen the church’s recent accusers as spreaders of slander. Because priests don’t act like that, it’s not imaginable. And he’d seen it before, only now it wasn’t Nazism or communism attempting to kill the church with lies, but modernity and its soulless media.

Only they weren’t lies.

Before readers get to that part of the column, Noonan has already written a statement that could only have been made by someone who genuinely loves journalism and its valid, protected role in public life — public life wherever free speech, freedom of the press and religious liberty truly coexist in painful, but necessary, tension.

Catholic leaders, she argues, are in attack mode at the moment because they believe that journalists are in attack mode. Many Catholics are simply blaming the current crisis on media bias.

Now, read very closely. This next passage contains a statement that I believe simply must be made. To make sure that readers get it, Noonan says it twice.

… (T)his is not true, or to the degree it is true, it is irrelevant. All sorts of people have all sorts of motives, but the fact is that the press — the journalistic establishment in the U.S. and Europe — has been the best friend of the Catholic Church on this issue. Let me repeat that: The press has been the best friend of the Catholic Church on the scandals because it exposed the story and made the church face it. The press forced the church to admit, confront and attempt to redress what had happened. The press forced them to confess. The press forced the church to change the old regime and begin to come to terms with the abusers. The church shouldn’t be saying j’accuse but thank you.

I hope that the blog’s many Catholic readers are still reading.

Noonan isn’t done yet. She argues that many mainstream journalists were actually reluctant to cover this story. Why spend years digging in this filth (the pope’s word), only to have thousands of Catholics accuse your paper of bias — no matter how accurate the coverage — and respond with protests or boycotts or both?

But, but ….

Without this pressure — without the famous 2002 Boston Globe Spotlight series with its monumental detailing of the sex abuse scandals in just one state, Massachusetts — the church would most likely have continued to do what it has done for half a century, which is look away, hush up, pay off and transfer. …

An irony: Non-Catholic members of the media were, in my observation, the least likely to want to go after the story, because they didn’t want to look like they were Catholic-bashing. An irony within the irony: some journalists didn’t think to go after the story because they really didn’t much like the Catholic Church. Because of this bias, they didn’t see the story as a story. They thought this was how the church always operated. It didn’t register with them that it was a scandal. They didn’t know it was news.

It was the Boston Globe that broke the dam, winning a justly deserved Pulitzer for public service.

Yes, that needed to be said.

It’s one thing to criticize some of the current coverage — which I think deserves criticism. It’s something else altogether to ignore the heroic efforts that many journalists have made, for whatever motives, to uncover the filth (there’s that word again) in the offices of far too many shepherds.

Categories: Roman Catholicism

First Sighting of The Lutheran Study Bible on the iPhone

April 11th, 2010 7 comments

I downloaded the Kindle version of The Lutheran Study Bible to my iPhone, using the Kindle iPhone app, and this is what it looks like.

Concordia Publishing House’s 100th E-Book: The Lutheran Study Bible

April 11th, 2010 14 comments

I’m pleased to announce that The Lutheran Study Bible is now avaialble as an e-book in Amazon Kindle format, it is our 100th E-Book title and we are just getting started. The price for the Kindle edition of TLSB is under $20. It provides you the complete text of the English Standard Version of the Bible, as well as all the study footnotes in TLSB. Check it out on Amazon’s Kindle site!

Remember: You can read Kindle files on: the Kindle e-reader itself, any iPhone, or Mac or PC desktop or laptop or notebook, and the Apple iPad, and the Blackberry. Why? Amazon has released Kindle software in all these formats, for these platforms. You don’t have to have an actual Kindle to read Amazon Kindle e-books.

Besides being our 100th E-Book title, it is also the first, and only, Lutheran study Bible available via this format, in any language, from any publisher, anywhere. Yes, I’m proud. Forgive me, but…hey, it is exciting.

TLSB is also available now in Mobipocket format, and soon in e-Pub (DRM protected). TLSB will also be available in Apple iBookstore, we hope, by the end of May. The LOGOS version of TLSB will be available by the end of April, if not sooner.

Here’s a screenshot of the Kindle version of The Lutheran Study Bible, on my Mac desktop.

Why Christian Congregations Should Not Celebrate a Passover Seder

April 10th, 2010 14 comments

Now that we are through Holy Week, let’s reflect on a few practices that have arisen in recent years and examine to what extent they truly do serve the best interest of the Gospel. One of these is Christians having a Passover Seder.  I would say that while perhaps some kind of demonstration with explanation of a Passover Seder is an interesting teaching tool, I think that a congregation that institutes a regular practice of having a Passover Seder during Holy Week is making a mistake. We have no indication from the New Testament that after Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, the Church continued to observe the Passover. The whole point of the “new” testament is precisely that, in Christ, everything the Passover pointed toward, has been fulfilled. Rev. Dr. Daniel Gard raises a number of very valid objections that I think are well worth our time and attention. Let me know what you think of this practice, in light of Dr. Gard’s concerns.

“Is it appropriate for a Lutheran congregation to celebrate a Passover Seder?  This is not an unimportant question since the practice has become rather widespread in our Synod.  In fact, it has even been promoted (complete with Eucharist!) by the Synod’s Board for Evangelism (A Passover Haggadah for Christians , ed. Bruce J. Lieske, no date).  But can it be historically or theologically sustained?

“The historical question is rather complex, as the history of liturgical forms generally are.  To begin with,  we have no manuscript of a Seder Haggadah  which is early than the tenth century A.D. (Siddur Rav Saadya Gaon ).  Nearly a millennium exists between the time of Jesus and the earliest extant text.   Passover Haggadoth  have never been standardized but have always been shaped and reshaped by circumstances and time.  The ritual has been extraordinarily versatile since the tenth century A.D. and in all likelihood was just as versatile in the preceding centuries.  The claim that any ritual now in existence is identical with that used by Jesus is both anachronistic and historically suspect.

“The theological questions are equally complex.  Even if it were proven (which it has not been) that a specific extant Haggadah  is identical with that used by Jesus,  these problems remain.  The Lord’s Supper was instituted by Jesus with the words “the blood of the new  covenant.”  He commanded that we “do this in remembrance of Me.”  But, to do what?  Celebrate a Seder?  Or celebrate His Sacrament?  The two are simply not the same.  On the night in which He was betrayed,  the Blessed Savior gave His disciples something new.  All that came before converged and found fulfillment in Him.  All that has happened since that night has grown from that same point of convergence and fulfillment.  The Galatian Christians failed to understand the radical nature of the new order found in Christ;  as a result, St. Paul found it necessary to correct their Judaizing error.

“It makes no more sense for Christians to gather around a Passover Seder than it does to gather around another sacrificial lamb.  The very Lamb of God has been slain, once and for all.  We would not and could not offer another sacrifice.  The final Sacrifice was offered on Calvary.  We now celebrate only that Lamb’s own feast as instituted and commanded by Him.  It is the Passover of Jesus, and only the Passover of Jesus, which the Church legitimately celebrates.
One final question might be asked.  Why, given the historical and theological questions,  do some parishes regularly or even occasionally sponsor a Seder?  Two responses have sometimes been given.  First, to teach Christians about the context of the Last Supper.  But given the historical uncertainties of the Haggadah , what anachronisms are being taught as historic facts?  Simply teaching our people a biblical and Lutheran Sacramentology and Christology is difficult enough;  why confuse the issue?

“A second rationale is to reach out and build bridges to the Jewish community.  But is a “Christian” Seder not as offensive to Jewish people as a “Jewish” Eucharist would be to Christians?  Communication with any group of people is rarely enhanced by misappropriating their beloved traditions.  Those Lutherans who use a Seder do so with commendable intentions.  But the inherent problems of the practice result in more harm than good.”

Syncing Your Faith: Challenges in Mission and Outreach

April 9th, 2010 9 comments

A well done post by Joe Burnham: Over the past couple weeks, I took time to sit in on the Theology of Mission course that was being offered at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Tshwane where I’m currently serving as guest professor. The class, which was taught by Detlev Schulz, author of Mission from the Cross: The Lutheran Theology of Mission is essentially, as the book would suggest, an exploration into the missional nature of Lutheran theology. Given that I’ve been fleshing this out in my own mind and teaching what I’ve been discovering for the past 6 years, it was good to hear that someone else in the Lutheran circles I run in has come to many of the same conclusions.

One day in class we were discussing one of the biggest challenges for any Christian who seeks to be missional … syncretism.

syncretism – an amalgomation or attempted amalgomation of different religions, cultures, or schools of thought

The challenge stems from the reality that, while the gospel is timeless and above culture, it is always expressed in and through culture. This means that anytime you seek to take the gospel from one culture to another you have one of two options:

1. you take people out of their native culture and move them into a culture where you already have a faithful translation of the gospel
2. you learn a new culture and faithfully translate the gospel for that culture

For many years, missionaries chose the first option, much to the detriment of both culture and the gospel. Be it through colonialism in Africa or the early Lutheran efforts to reach out to Native Americans in Frankenmouth; imposing Western culture on non-Western groups not only created resentment towards the West (including Christianity), but it also resulted in indiginous people never fully taking hold of the gospel and remaining dependent on foreign missionaries. One example of this would be the aforementioned Frankenmouth outreach which lasted for decades but only resulted in only two Native Americans attempting seminary education (both dropped out) and the complete abandonment of the Lutheran faith when the Native Americans were forced onto reservations.

So, having learned from the failures of previous generations, missionaries are now working on option two. The problem is, whenever you try and explain something new, like the gospel, you have to work within people’s existing mental framework, in other words, you have to start with what they know and take them to what they don’t know. This brings us back to the challenge of syncretism, because what people already know often becomes blended in with the new gospel teaching.

Now, in Africa, syncretism is rather blatant, because it typically happens as the animistic tribal religions are blended with Christianity. So, for example, the rites of the liturgy aren’t something designed to point you to Christ and his work for you through the cross and empty tomb, but they are things that you do to appease God (which, oddly enough, has a Medieval Roman Catholic sacramental vibe to it). However, in the United States, syncretism is much more subtle because there isn’t a native religion (except for on the aforementioned reservations) to syncronize with Christianity, rather, various elements of popular philosophy have managed to penetrate their way into the Christian thought and left people clinging to something less than the gospel. Let me offer a few examples:

* Materialism: The most blatant expression of this would be your health and wealth preachers who boldly declare that, if you have faith and do the things that God wants, then you’ll be blessed with material wealth. In contrast to this, the gospel is intensely sacrificial in nature and isn’t about getting, but giving.
* Individualism: This version has God being all about you, your salvation, and being the best you that you can be. This stands in stark contrast to Scripture which doesn’t focus on the individual, but the community.
* Consumerism: By nature, consumerism views people as objects and works to get them to buy into your brand. Many churches have, in the name of Jesus, objectified people which devalues them and therefore stands in contradiction to the gospel.
* Conservative Politics: The Republican Party, especially under the leadership of George W. Bush, co-opted the Christian vote by highlighting select issues. However, in the process, many Christians wed themselves to the parties entire platform, including those elements that are contrary to the gospel.
* Liberal Politics: As part of a backlash to syncretism with conservative politics, some Christians who want to see an emphasis on care for the poor, disagree with Bush’s war philosophy, or want a government to serve as a check and balance against the sinfulness of corporate American, have now gone to the other extreme and embraced a pure liberal political stance.

So, how do Christians work to avoid syncing their faith with the very culture we are part of and seek to share our faith with? Here are a few guidelines I’ve come up with:

* Repent: The truth is, we’re all syncretists. Realize that there is no human culture that is in complete alignment with the gospel and we’ve all read elements of our culture into the gospel story. Admit this, ask God for forgiveness, and ask for the Spirit to guide you as you move forward.
* Get Out of the Water: Much like a fish doesn’t realize it’s in water until it finds itself on land, we don’t realize how much we are a part of our culture until we step out of it. Go somewhere and experience something that’s radically different … force yourself to look at home with new eyes.
* Stand Under the Bible: All too often, when we study the Bible, we read it through our cultural eyes and in such a way that it makes God like the people we like and hate the people we hate … we conform God and Scripture to our image rather than allowing it to transform us. You will never understand the Bible until you stand under it and allow it to change you.

So, what am I missing?

Categories: Outreach